Gen 9: 8-15 / PS 25: 2-5, 6-7, 8-9 / 1 Pt 3:18-22 / Mk 1:12-15
In the bible the dessert is a place of encounter with God. It was in the desert that God first revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush, where God formed His people the Israelites into a nation as He lead them from Egypt through the desert to the Promised Land, it was in the desert where God first revealed the identity of Jesus as the Son of God when He was baptized by John the Baptist and many early Christians, living as monks, went into the desert to seek an encounter with God. Throughout the Bible people go into the desert for a while, have an encounter with God and then return to life in closer union with God. The desert really is the precursor to the Catholic season of Lent.
For people of biblical times the desert was a place of special closeness to God. When they journeyed into a desert they were surrounded only by the vast dry sand around them and the sky above. They had no secure place to seek refuge, no place where they could retreat and hide from earthly dangers. In the desert man is exposed to emptiness and the unknown which provides him with the perfect opportunity to turn to God who “holds the whole world in his hands and who can be everywhere present with men and knows them and is able to help them with his creative power, no matter where they are.” The desert teaches us the first lesson of conversion, namely that we must recognize that we are mere creatures and are utterly dependent on God. “No one is strong enough to travel the entire path of salvation unaided. All have sinned, all need the Lord’s mercy, the love of the crucified one.”
In today’s gospel Jesus goes out into the dessert, a practice that He would repeat time and time again. Throughout His lifetime Jesus went into the dessert to be with His heavenly Father and then returned to minister to His people. Yet as we hear in today’s Gospel when Jesus goes to the dessert He is left vulnerable. We can easily ask why was Jesus, who is God, tempted by the devil. The answer is simple, because while He is fully God, He is also fully man and thus vulnerable to temptation. In allowing Himself to be tempted He reaches out to us and shows us the path through temptation to eternal life. It was through His temptations that He shows us a basic foundation of the spiritual life, namely if we walk with Him, if we trust Him, we can overcome any temptation.
In this season of Lent our Lord invites us to follow after Him into the desert, that sacred place which is the university where God teaches His people. While most of us will not find ourselves going out into the hot desert for 40 days, the Church invites us to enter into the spiritual desert by fasting, performing penances and giving to the needy. Through faithfully undertaking our Lenten practices we too in some sense go out into the desert where we can encounter God and He will teach us the way to true earthly fulfillment and the path to eternal life.
The Holy Spirit dwells inside of you and I who are body, soul composites. What we do to our bodies has an effect on our soul and our relationship with the Trinity. The acts of fasting, penance and almsgiving should exercise our heart to recognize what is absolutely essential and they should teach us how to share with others.
This life we live is a battle where we are challenged to prefer heaven over earth and to prefer eternal values to the passing values of this world. No solider goes into battle unprepared. He spends months preparing for the battle through intense training. Now is our time to train. Through works of fasting, penances and charity we strengthen ourselves to fight the battles of own temptation. While we all face our own personal battles with the devil our Lord has made these temptations the means of our salvation for they “give you a chance to show God your fidelity.” Fortunately our Lord does not leave us alone in this personal battle with the devil. He gives us the sacraments to fortify us and the lives of the saints who have gone before us as the battle plan, but we must engage those tools to help us overcome our own personal temptations. Why not make a resolution to attend the sacrament of confession this lent or perhaps find time to attend Holy Mass during the week, or even read a good spiritual book to help guide you through the season of Lent?
As we enter into these 40 days of lent we must too go out into the desert to be taught at the university of the Lord, through our prayer, fasting and works of charity. As we begin this Lenten pilgrimage why don’t we create the desert environment in our lives by slowing down, making time for silence, allowing God to speak to us. Let’s make a concrete plan, perhaps to attend Mass sometime during the week, or to spend some time daily reading the Bible, maybe reducing distractions by eliminating TV or social media. Certainly these resolutions will not be easy, but whatever your resolutions are, undertake them out of love for God knowing that He will use those acts to transform your relationship with Him because “Jesus always has victory when He has your abandonment. He needs nothing more than that to bring about the Divine wonders that His Heart has prepared for you from all eternity.”
To truly be a Catholic requires us to live the life of Christ. During this holy season of lent the Church invites us to live with Jesus in the desert. She invites us through our acts of fasting, penance, and charity to undergo trials with Him and at the end of these days to come out of the desert ready to share the joy of the Easter season with Him, but the choice is ours, we can freely go to our Lord’s university in the desert, be challenged and come out stronger or we can choose to simply let this season of lent pass by. Perhaps the biggest temptation of this lent will be to remain where we are because we are comfortable, but Our Lord makes His will clear in today’s Gospel, when He tells us to repent and believe in the Gospel. His will is clear, but the choice is ours, will we go into the desert to encounter Him or will we just lent pass by?
 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. pg 285
 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Jesus of Nazareth Part II. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. pg 151 – 152
 St. Faustina Kowalska. Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. Stockbridge:Marian Press. (2011). pg. 279
 Fr. Jean D’Elbee. I Believe in Love. Manchester: Sophia Institute Press. (2001.) pg. 89